Students as Digital Leaders: A Digital Citizenship Lesson

Our 3rd-5th graders all get their own computer at the beginning of the year.  It’s a powerful thing. A computer can connect them with a wealth of information and opportunities to create content that gets their voice out to the teacher, the class, the community, and the world. A computer also brings great responsibility.

This year, I wanted to spend some time as we passed out new computers to lead students in a reflection on digital leadership. We started with the question: “What is a digital leader?”  Many of the students knew some things about what leaders do, but they were a bit stuck trying to decide what that looked like online.

I did some storytelling for them. I searched back through my pictures and pulled out several examples of Barrow students exemplifying digital leadership. I ended each story with the phrase “that’s digital leadership”. I shared a story about Ajacea becoming an honorary marketing intern for Capstone Press, Mick writing an ebook that was assigned as college homework, Carlos & Carlena teaching a class in Indiana, Taylor designing the 1st Barrow Peace Prize, and Adaline using email to get custom signs made for our library. When I finished the stories, I once again asked about digital leadership. I heard things like: use your technology for good, try to create change in the world, be kind, show others what they can do with their computers, and more.

5th grade classes are adding ideas about being digital leaders #digitalcitizenship #digitalleader #technology

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Next, we took a look at Google’s “Be Internet Awesome” words. I used the images from the Be Internet Awesome poster PDF 

I divided students into groups and gave each group one of the words: Smart, Brave, Strong, Alert, and Kind. Their job was to read the descriptors of the word and come up with a specific example of what that looked like.  The teacher and I moved between groups to join discussions.

Finally, each group shared their example, and we talked about how digital leadership is something you must do the whole time you own a piece of technology. It isn’t just a one-session conversation that we forget about. I want to revisit these words throughout the year and find ways that these current students are being digital leaders in our school.

Our 5th grade classes all did this lesson at the same time in their classrooms. I facilitated this through Google Hangouts in the library. You can view what we did here:

You can also see the brainstorms they had here:

Inspiring Digital Leaders During Personal Learning Device (PLD) Rollout

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Our 3rd-5th graders all have their own personal learning device assigned to them at the beginning of the year.  This device gets checked out to them just like a textbook and remains with them throughout the school year.  Students also take this device home.  Currently, our 3rd graders each receive an ASUS netbook and our 4th & 5th graders receive an HP laptop.

There are so many rules that you want to talk to students about when it comes to their computers in order to keep the computer and the students safe.  However, I want students to get their device with more than just a set of rules.  I want students to realize the power of the device they hold in their hands.  I want them to realize that their device connects them to the information that answers just about any question they could dream up.  It connects them to people and cultures they may never experience on their own.  It connects them with authors, developers, and experts on any topic of interest.  It allows them to collaborate with students and classrooms around the world.

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I really wrestled with exactly what I wanted to do as students come to get their device from the library.  Should I just check it out and do digital citizenship lessons later?  Should I go over the list of rules from the student handbook?  Should I focus on the kinds of projects we would do with the devices during the year?

As I was pondering, I turned to a few resources to spark my thoughts.  One resource was Be a Changemaker by Laurie Ann Thompson.  This text features students who have all done something to create change in their schools or communities.  Each chapter takes a different aspect of being a changemaker and profiles a student who did something amazing.  They don’t all necessarily feature something digital, but the idea of using our technology to foster change was intriguing to me.

From the foreword:

“Don’t wait.  Don’t wait to be powerful, to change the lives and communities around you significantly.  There is nothing like it.  Once you discover that you can visualize the next step society should take, and then you discover that you can lead others to turn your vision into reality, you can do anything.”

I also turned to the blog of George Couros.  I often find inspiration from this transformational principal’s blog.  He has written several times about digital leadership.  He defines digital leadership as “using the vast reach of technology (especially the use of social media) to improve the lives, well-being, and circumstances of others.  His post about digital leadership vs. cyberbullying really made me think about what I wanted to emphasize with the students.  Rather than focus on every bad thing that could happen with devices, I wanted the main focus to be on the good that we could do.

So…what did I do?  First, I’ll say that I finally just had to try something and see where it went.  I don’t think that what I did was special, but it was a start to a conversation and something I will keep revisiting.

As students entered, they each came to an iPad on the carpet and I had this video playing.

We used this video to talk about how doing good deeds can spread.  We also used the video to talk about how technology isn’t always visible.  The awesome projects that we create using technology hide on our computers unless we share them.  On the same note, the bad things that happen like cyberbullying may go unnoticed unless students take leadership and speak up to people who can support them.  This is a conversation that evolved as the classes continued to come and something I didn’t really plan initially for this video.

Next, I introduced the idea of digital leadership and being a changemaker using Laurie Ann Thompson’s book foreward and student profile on page. 137.  I also used this video.

I also shared myself by showing how I use this blog to highlight the incredible work of our students.  I showed our map of visitors since April.  Students saw every place in the world where people were reading about the work going on in our library.

With all of these pieces, I asked students to think about what it means to be a digital leader.  A digital leader is a person who _____________.  Then, using Poll Everywher, students submitted their thoughts using the iPads.  I setup the poll to populate as a word cloud.  As students submitted answers the words grew in size as they were repeated.  I deactivated the poll and we used the word cloud to talk about how the words connected with “digital leader”.

Most of the time, something about being responsible came up in the digital leadership word clouds, so the next thing we did was create a second word cloud about the things we needed to do this year to be responsible with our devices.  Again, students submitted via the iPads.  This cloud mostly focused on being careful with devices, keeping them charged, not losing them, etc.

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Really with both of these questions, students hit most of the topics that I would have covered on my own.  I had a set of slides that was shared between the other librarians in the district that included lots of rules for the devices, so I used those slides to fill in the holes from the word clouds.  We covered a few missing pieces such as keeping your password secure and having a plan for where to keep your computer outside of school.

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I hope that in going over a few “rules” that I didn’t lose the concept of being a digital leader.  I’m not sure.  However, I felt like kids were leaving excited about getting their device and being in general agreement about the potential of the device they held in their hands.

I look forward to this year and seeing what we create with these devices, what change we foster in our school and community, and how our students use technology for good.